Until about a month ago 39-year-old William M. Chase had difficulty writing out a money order or filling out job applications. But his skills have improved and now he's looking for a job.
Mr. Chase attended the Greater Baltimore Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) in the 1200 block of Eutaw Place, where he spent three days a week brushing up on his reading, writing and math skills.
Founded in 1964 by the Rev. Leon H. Sullivan of Philadelphia, OIC is a job training program with centers across the nation.
The program is aimed at high school dropouts, welfare recipients and other low income people who lack job skills.
Mr. Chase, who dropped out of school in the eighth grade, said: "To me, since I've been going to the program . . . I have improved a lot."
His teacher agrees.
"He read for the first time out loud in the workshops last week," said Jacqueline M. Blair, one of the five tutors at OIC.
Ms. Blair is now helping Mr. Chase read Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women."
Building self-confidence is one of the areas on which OIC focuses during its training workshops, said executive director Rebecca Jackson.
"It made me feel real good," to read out loud, said Mr. Chase, who said he tends to be a quiet person.
The local program opened in January and it trained 15 adults.
There are 71 other OIC programs across the country and 23 internationally.
Participants in OIC workshops are taught how to prepare for job interviews and those who lack high school diplomas are prepared to take the General Education Development test.
Mr. Chase hopes to get a job working for the city.
Dressed in navy blue slacks, a matching shirt and polished black shoes, he said: "That's the only way I can get a job. I want to look professional."
Jackie L. Scipio can testify that knowing people made her job search easier.
Ms. Scipio, 20, who came to OIC to improve her math skills and prepare for her G.E.D., was hired through the program.
About two weeks ago OIC conducted a job fair, at which 10 companies conducted interviews. Ms. Scipio was one of two people hired during the fair.
Ms. Scipio had already met her interviewer, Jodi Davidson of PTP Plastic Packaging Industry, when Ms. Davidson gave a workshop at the center on communication skills and employee expectations.
"I was comfortable because I already had a chance to speak with her before," said Ms. Scipio, who is on the assembly line five days a week at PTP Industries.
Mannie Ellison, who has a high school diploma, went to OIC to refresh himself about things he might have forgotten.
"Sometimes over a period of time you can lose your skills, for lack of use," said Mr. Ellison, 36, a former construction worker.
"I always believed as long as it was a paycheck and an honest living," everything was OK, he said.
Baltimore's OIC office is housed in the Hiram Grand Lodge Masonic building.
Ms. Jackson said the center is looking for funding so it can open five days a week instead of three. Should the center be able to tap stable funding sources, it would be able to offer additional services, she said.
"In the future we're planning to develop some training in food services and building construction," Ms. Jackson said.
Math tutor Montee L. Benjamin talks optimistically about OIC's future.
"If we get funding we'll be something to watch for," said Mr. Benjamin.